By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The young man’s dream was to bridge the fashion gap between New York and Lagos. He was ready to dare the problems of lack of electricity, requisite infrastructure and the general despair in the country of his birth, Nigeria. Against very intimidating odds he ended setting up Braga, a flourishing fashion outfit. The driver of the dream is Charles-Paul (C.P.) Odikpo, a New York based attorney who broke bold ground by venturing into the fashion industry back in Nigeria.
The personable business builder fondly called CP by his childhood pals is now more famously known by his trade name Braga. It was a very strategic reason that made him to set up shop in Surulere, Lagos, as he says, “Surulere is without any shadow of doubt the archetypal Nigerian middle class neighbourhood.”
Braga deals primarily in designer casuals imported straight from America such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Nautica, DKNY etc. Braga is fully stocked with fanciful T-shirts, blouses, shirts, jeans, shoes, bags and all the latest raves in the international fashion market. For as little as N3,000 one can walk away from Braga with the most modern of wears.
According to Odikpo, “Braga will make sure that whatever is seen in the name of fashion anywhere in the world is available in Nigeria. Nigerians love fashion, both those at home and in the Diaspora. Looking at the Lagos fashion industry, it is easily noticeable that there is a lot of fake designer clothing being sold. Ironically, these fake clothes are not cheap either. Braga was born out of this observation.”
The Braga philosophy is quite simple: “Authentic for Less.” The Braga flagship store, located at Shop D12, Adeniran Ogunsanya Shopping Complex, popularly known as Shoprite, Surulere, Lagos, had its grand opening on Sunday, April 17, 2011. From the opening day of Sunday, April 17, through to Sunday, May 1, Braga made the promising statement of giving out the discount of ten percent off the entire stock.
The customer-friendly approach to business has been the Braga way. There is always a personal touch in the drive for customer satisfaction. The crucial essentials of the pre-eminent fashion shops of America have been introduced into the Nigerian scheme of things. Attention to details is as ever the stock-in-trade. Mastery of the diverse fashions and effects cannot be gainsaid.
Even in these harsh economic times that most would stay rooted in the United States, Odikpo always makes his presence felt in Surulere, Lagos. His flourishing career as an attorney in New York City, U.S.A, somewhat makes the allowance for the very committed man to be always around in Nigeria to see that the Braga outfit is functioning efficiently to his ideals.
It was after repeatedly observing that people paid high prices for fake designer clothes that he decided to take action by initiating the Braga concept that has won wide admiration. He travels the length and breadth of the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to the known designer stores, namely Polo, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein etc looking for bargains to sell at Braga.
“This is no easy task,” he informs, “but it must be done to maintain quality and to keep prices low at Braga.”
There is an inescapable American feel about Braga. It is indeed a new concept in designer clothing. The jeans trousers and shirts are not unlike the ones donned by Hollywood legends such as Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, John Travolta, Denzel Washington, while the blouses appear to be taken out of the attractive skins of Sharon Stone, Halle Berry, Olivia Newton-John and Elizabeth Taylor.
“Everything at Braga is from the United States and guaranteed authentic,” Odikpo elucidates for effect, pointing at the array of displayed apparels.
The shop design is avant-garde. This is indeed understandable given that the Braga showpiece was designed by Hammerhead Integrated, owned by the world-acclaimed Tony George Chidi Akudinobi, convener of the African Design Roundtable. Akudinobi informs that Odikpo spared no costs to get the exquisite effect he wanted from the very beginning when he was flying in from New York.
“I am ever so proud of the wok I put in designing the splendid Braga,” Akudinobi says, stressing that the ambience would last for years on end.
The atmosphere at Braga is indeed very relaxed. Clothes and accessories are very nicely displayed for easy identification. The members of the sales staff are very friendly and are always in fine fettle to get the customers whatever they are looking for: clothes, shoes, bags, belts, caps etc. Most importantly, prices start at 3000 Naira.
“Yes, you heard right!” Odikpo asserts, sitting up. “Yes! Three Thousand Naira!”
Odikpo refuses to be deterred by the dodgy exchange rate of the Naira against the Dollar. He has put in place a remarkable business formula that takes in its stride the quakes in the market.
The son of a school principal father and a schools’ supervisor mother, CP Odikpo was educated at the esteemed Christ the King College, Onitsha where his father was once an eminent tutor. He took an Honours degree at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) before travelling abroad for his legal education. His practice as an attorney in the state of New York was hugely rewarding, but there was the abiding ache to invest in the fashion industry of Nigeria.
A man of consummate fashion sense, he undertook a study of the American fashion scene vis-à-vis that of Nigeria and noticed a yawning gap. Then the seed of Braga instantly sprouted within him.
He met with so many obstacles when he initially proposed to set up the business. Getting and training the needed staff took so much time. The exorbitant cost of renting a shop had to be surmounted. He had to take the decision of setting up shop in Surulere, and paid dear hotel bills while he tied up the loose ends of setting up the business.
“It definitely was not easy,” he submits. “But here we are!”
Braga opened its doors to customers on Sunday, April 17, 2011. Ever since, CP Odikpo and Braga have not looked back, shining forth as the fashion statement of the changing Nigeria.